Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Boron Vacation Part 2: The Town of Boron And the Twenty Mule Team

After my meal at Domingo's, I promptly check into the Boron Motel and fall asleep. The motel, not surprisingly, is run by an Indian family.

Twenty Mule Team Road in Boron, looking east

Twenty Mule Team Road in Boron, looking west

There is a high concentration of borax in the Mojave Desert. In the late 1800s, mule trains lugged borax from Death Valley to civilization. Someone experimented with different combinations and concluded that a twenty mule team was the optimum number of mules to pull two wagons of borax and 1,200 gallons of water 165 miles through the scorching desert. There are two 50-plus mile stretches with no water. Temperatures sometimes topped 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Each team pulled a total of 36 tons 17 miles a day. Between 1883 and 1889, the mule teams hauled 20 million tons of borax without a single breakdown. Hence the "twenty mule team" and the road in Boron named after it.

In the 1920s, a doctor picked the current location of the town of Boron to build a sanitarium for patients with respiratory ailments. While digging for a well, he struck borax. The rest, as they say, is history. Now, Boron is the site of the largest open mining pit in California. Half of the world's borax is dug up from this pit, which is just a few miles from town. Most of its residents are affiliated with the white substance in one way or another.

If the town looks familiar, it's because the movie Erin Brakovich was filmed here. Most of the residents are descendants of 1930s Okies, so even though this is California, everyone has an unfamiliar accent.

The next time you're at a grocery store, check the laundry detergent aisle. You'll be surprised to find boxes and boxes of Twenty Mule Team Borax.

No comments: